Dear UJ Community
As the year winds down, it is only appropriate for me to pause and reflect on the journey we have travelled so far since we began our academic programme in January. I am sure many of you would have done the same, given that not long ago, the challenges that we faced seemed insurmountable.
WATCH: Vice-Chancellor’s 2020 Year-End Video Message
When news of the outbreak of the coronavirus emerged, it was almost certain that we were not going to be left unscathed. Our fears were confirmed in March when the virus finally hit South Africa, and the State of Disaster and the concomitant national lockdowns were declared. The pandemic brought with it crashing economies, massive job losses and financial uncertainty, also for higher education.
As the COVID-19 hit home, decisions had to be taken, no matter how difficult they were. Over a week, we conducted an urgent review of our operations across all domains to minimise the disruption to our Business Continuity Plans while ensuring a containment of on-campus risk. Yet, this was an uncharted territory even for a University that prides itself on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and on a constant path to reimagine the future.
We began by expanding our approach to online education, and used Blackboard and affiliated features to support learning by allowing academics to support students in a holistic manner. We saw great creativity among our academics, who created and distributed short videos, held zoom calls and communicated through WhatsApp with students. In some modules, podcasts of lectures were uploaded, and students found this beneficial as they can listen to this multiple times.
We also needed to take our innovative spirit to other areas to demonstrate our agility in the 4IR space and ensure that we are at the forefront of this battle with the disease. With the usage of 3D Printers, we were able to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and ventilators. We have also launched an App that allows users to pull all the COVID-19-related research from UJ.
Recently, in October, we launched the UJ Press. This is a completely online platform that will publish journals and monograms which will be interactive with hyperlinks to related literature and other resources. This allows one to publish work of a scholarly standard and of repute, providing wider access to knowledge beyond the physical walls of a university.
When our traditional graduation ceremonies were adversely affected, we responded accordingly by introducing the virtual graduation ceremonies. Through this, we awarded over 14 000 qualifications in absentia to candidates who completed their studies from undergraduate to doctoral levels.
In all of these, we had to navigate the enduring challenge of digital divide, which is a stark reality about South Africa. Limited access to devices and data posed a stark challenge, especially because much of the data allocated by telecommunications companies are night owl bundles which can only be used between midnight and 5 am.
Despite these challenges, we have certainly risen to the occasion. Today, our students sit for their last final examinations and assessments, and there is much to boast about. So far, the pass rates at UJ have been higher during the lockdown period than they were last year. Attendance is on par with the previous years. I hope that all our students have done well in their final examinations. However, for those who may be required to rewrite some modules, the special assessment of the previous year (otherwise known as the supplementary examination period) will take place from 18 to 22 January 2021.
Even under trying conditions, our University continued to make significant strides in the various global university ranking systems. This ensured that our University consolidated its position as among the best institutions of higher education in the world. Our record in various categories of the Times Higher Education (THE) Rankings and the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) BRICS University Rankings as well as the Best Global University Rankings (BGUR), among others, speaks volumes.
Also, this year, a sizeable number of our academics were recognised for their expertise. Many of them were appointed on national and international boards and academies. This affirms our University’s stature as a force to be reckoned with. Likewise, our students have excelled in various academic competitions. There are just too many of our excelling staff and students to mention.
As we approach the 2021 academic year, we should continue to rethink, reimagine and redefine our operations, because we are really on the precipice of change where adaptability is the norm.
Thank you for all the incredible work, dedication and the commitment you have demonstrated throughout the year.
With my very best wishes for a joyous and a peaceful festive season!
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg